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All of us inhabit many different communities of discourse, each with their own terminology, paradigms and perspectives. Interesting things happen when two of your communities come together, because you can apply all the insight from one to the other, and vice versa, to the enrichment of both.

There are two kinds of joiners in the world. Think of it in terms of anthropology. There are the kinds of people who join a tribe, and kind of get sucked in, like a black hole. That's the last you hear from them, unless you happen to be in the black hole with them. And we need people like this in our tribes, if only to be cheerleaders.
But the open source movement is energized by the other sort of joiner. This sort of person joins many tribes. These are the people who inhabit the intersections of the Venn diagrams. They believe in ANDs rather than ORs. They're a member of more than one subset, more than one tribe. The reason these people are important is, just like merchants who go between real tribes, they carry ideas from one intellectual tribe to another. I call these people "glue people", because they not only join themselves to a tribe, they join tribes together. Twenty years ago, you couldn't easily be a glue person, because our culture was not yet sufficiently accepting of diversity. -- LarryWall (http://www.perl.com/pub/a/1999/03/pm.html)

Take Meatball, for example. Most of us in here are hacker types with our heads attached to computers. We dream in code. But we are here, in this place, because we also like community. This puts us squarely in the tradition of social thought which goes back to the beginning of human association. This is what makes meatball cool. It straddles the communities of hackers and social thinkers.

The challenge we face is one of speaking two languages, or rather, creating a new language which synthesizes hacker talk with social talk. Are other people thinking along similar lines? This was one of the goals behind ActiveInstitutions. If you accept the stance taken in that paper, you should be able to use the terms institution, collective action, and government in a way that is general enough to encompass both hacker speak and social speak.

Compare JohnDewey's claim that philosophy is a kind of "liason officer," "making reciprocally intelligible voices speaking provincial tongues, and thereby enlarging as well as rectifying the meanings with which they are charged."

By pointing out the commonalities in the languages of two communities, community straddling shows what they fundamentally share. It's like taking two classes and factoring them into descendents of a common base. that is, it's good library design.

Contributors: LynHeadley

Contrast how this might work in your own self by considering WhatIsMultiplicity.

Question by AlexSchroeder: Is this refering to people using the same words for different things? If so, isn't this the most basic of all social skills -- empathy? The ability to second guess your partner's intentions, to adapt to peculiar speech, confusing vocabulary, twisted lines of thought? I guess the reason why I am so sceptical about it is that it seems to me that hacker speech (such as discussed in the JargonFile) is just the linguistic part of a subculture, and that it is foolish to give too much weight to the phenomenon of subculture because it is so abundand. Superficial analysis will lead to trivial results. That is why I feel there is nothing special about people with hacking and social interests on Meatball. Almost everybody has several skills, several areas of interest, interacts with various subcultures everyday. To think otherwise seems to be an oversimplification, and only given this oversimplification does the result seem amazing. I think the result -- people from various communities bringing fresh ideas into other communities -- is part of the most basic form of social interaction between most humans.

-- Exactly. Groups interact, they split up, they are born, they blend and meld into a delicious sort of jellowy substance. There's nothing more natural than group merging, and if you leave it alone it will happen anyway. So what's the big deal about combination?

Communities of inquiry are special. Fundamentally, we are all here to solve similar problems, to scratch similar itches, mental itches we organize around ideas. We are all casting around in search of something. We are researchers, peers looking to share knowledge.

It's the abstraction that makes the difference. Say for example that the only animals on our earth were humans. Then we would have little need of the category animal. But if dogs were somehow introduced, the category would follow naturally.

Any time two groups realize they're investigating the same kind of object, they generalize their concept of that kind and understand it at a deeper level.


AlexSchroeder is not yet convinced that anything noteworthy is going on. I think the central question is wether a) the generalization of ideas actually happens and b) wether that leads to a deeper understanding. As to a) I can think of a positive example -- the concept of Memes was brought into sociology questions by a biologist (Richard Dawkins in "The Selfish Gene", if I remember correctly). I can also think of a negative example, however. An example of what I call "word magic": People in esoteric circles often misuse language from quantum physics to construct pseudo-scientific explanations based mostly on the fact that a lot of words in quantum physics are used in everyday language (observer, observation, uncertainty, ...). As to b) I am not sure wether there are any benefits surpassing a little intellectual stimulation as in "Oh, that is kind of like genes, right? Maybe there is an evolution of ideas, too..." -- but is that "understanding on a deeper level" or just part of how everyday creativity and association works? Things to stimulate other thoughts, perhaps. But not deep thoughts in and of themselves. Because fundamentally, knowledge from one area of expertiese can never be safely used in another area. All you can use are some basic principles, superficial similarities. The most important contribution happens on the social level: Creativity through human interaction, communication resulting in new stimuli, making new friends. Basic human traits and experiences.

It may be helpful to draw an analogy here with refactoring. Combining two points of view, two pieces of text, or two pieces of code sometimes really does yield something that wasn't there before. Anyone who has seen this happen knows that it is possible. But it is not inevitable, and sometimes, perhaps more often than not, the result is superficial word magic.

Does the academic term cross-disciplinary illuminate? Cross-disciplinary studies combine ideas from separate fields of study with one another to create new ideas, and possibly a new discipline.

Perhaps the management term cross-functional would help, as in a "cross-functional team," which brings disparate sectors of the organization together in order to solve some complex, non-categorical problem.

Or maybe the genetic programming concept demetic grouping [sic]? Where we breed separate populations, and then trade the best agents between the separate groups?

Then perhaps the biological term cross-insemination, might help, where one culture exchanges genetic information with another culture. This leads on occasion to hopeless offspring, like mules and geeps that cannot reproduce, but sometimes to a more efficient new race, species, or genus.

In fact, there are some viruses called bacteriophages that snip a segment of RNA or DNA from one bacterium and insert it into another's RNA or DNA, thereby sexually producing a new species.

In high school, I fancied the idea of a sociophage as someone that moved gracefully between social circles, introducing the practices of one clique to another. I was a naïf, but maybe still a worthwhile idea nonetheless. -- SunirShah

[The paper "Social Origin of Good Ideas"] suggests that people who bridge structural holes have a vision advantage that makes them more likely to have good ideas.

See also WhatIsSynergy.


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